Are There Limits To The Amount You Can Recover From A Personal Injury?
Is There A Cap Or Limit On Damages In Kansas?
For many years there was a limited amount of damages that an injured party could receive in Kansas. Kansas legislators drew an arbitrary line in the sand when it came to “pain and suffering” damages. Essentially, the law would not allow a jury to compensate people for damages they suffered. This law was recently struck down as unconstitutional. The case brief below lays out the facts.
Hillburn v. Enerpipe, Ltd. Impact on Noneconomic Damages Cap
What Happened In The Case?
Facts: Plaintiff was injured when the car in which she was riding was rear-ended by a semi-truck. As a result, plaintiff sued the semi-truck driver’s employer alleging that the truck driver’s negligence caused the collision and the employer was vicariously liable for its driver’s actions. Jury awarded plaintiff $335,000 in damages, comprising $33,490 for medical expenses and $301,509 for noneconomic losses. At the time, noneconomic damages could not exceed $250,000. Therefore, defense counsel prepared a journal entry of judgement against employer for $283,490. Plaintiff appealed arguing that the noneconomic cap violated her constitutional rights under section 5 (“the right of trial by jury shall be inviolate”) and section 18 (“All persons, for injuries suffered in person, reputation or property, shall have remedy by due course of law, and justice administered without delay”) of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights.
The court often mentioned Miller v. Johnson, 289 P.3d 1098 (Kan. 2012), in which the court upheld the application of the noneconomic damages cap to a medical malpractice plaintiff’s jury award in the face of challenges under section 5 and section 18. In Miller, the court extended a section 18 quid pro quo analysis to section 5 challenges. Under that test, the Legislature must provide an “adequate and viable substitute when modifying a common-law jury trial right under section 5 or right to remedy under Section 18.”
The Case in District Court: held that there was an adequate substitute remedy for plaintiff’s loss of any section 5 or section 18 rights (motor carrier operating in interstate commerce must maintain a minimum level of liability insurance)
The Case at the Court of Appeals: plaintiff argued that the two necessary prongs of the quid pro quo test were unmet. Court rejected and affirmed district court’s decision.
The Case at the Supreme Court: The Miller court acknowledged that the cap on noneconomic damages violated the plaintiff’s section 5 right, however the violation was excused by the quid pro quo test. This court abandoned the quid pro quo test for analyzing whether the noneconomic damage cap was unconstitutional under section 5. Once the court determined the quid pro quo test was abandoned, the court then had to examine the statute and determine if it violated the plaintiff’s section 5 right. In doing so, the court noted that the cap’s effect was to disturb the jury’s finding of fact on the amount of the award. Therefore, allowing this substituted the Legislature’s nonspecific judgment for the jury’s specific judgment. Thus, the court held that the cap on damages imposed by K.S.A. 60-19a02 was facially unconstitutional because it violated section 5 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights.
What Types Of Cases Will The No Cap On Noneconomic Damages Impact?
It appears that negligence, medical malpractice, and products liability cases will be impacted by this decision. It does not appear that the decision will impact wrongful death cases or punitive damages but may in the future.
How Do Other States Handle Caps On Noneconomic Damages?
General tort or PI cases: 41 states do not have caps.
Products liability cases: 41 states do not have caps
Medical malpractice cases: 21 states do not have caps; 24 states have non-economic caps
What Are Critics Of The Decision Saying?
John Rosell, executive director of Kansas Medical Society, thinks the rule also strikes down caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases and will increase doctor’s insurance costs.
Kansas Chambers of Commerce believe the ruling will mean Kansas could face higher insurance costs, more uninsured defendants, and fewer economic opportunities.
Sen. Rick Wilborn, R-McPherson and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it was too early to predict how the legislature might respond to the court’s decision. Further, Wilborn stated, “Those caps were put on years ago to control costs in the insurance arena, to put some predictability back in insurance rates,” Wilborn said. “And any time you add to loss cost, you can anticipate in time as the awards mount, that insurance rates will increase. It’s that simple.”
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